Walter Payton was a common name during my childhood in the 80’s as he was one of the greatest running backs not only of his time but also of all time. During a Monday night football game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants one of the announcers observed that Walter Payton, the Bears running back had accumulated over nine miles in career rushing yardage. The other announcer remarked, “Yeah, and that’s with someone knocking him down every 4.6 yards!”
Walter Payton, one of the most successful running backs ever, discovered that everyone –even the best – get knocked down. But that didn’t keep him from suiting up and playing with passion. Instead he learned the key to victory not only in football, but in life as well: Getting back up, and running hard again.
This truth is so timely for us right now as church. At New Life we are in a series called “I Have Decided” and we are talking about what it means to make the decision to “Follow Jesus”.
If you have been a Christian for any period of time you have probably discovered that following Jesus is not the hard part. The challenge comes when you are trying to follow Jesus and facing some attacks along the way.
I have talked to a few people lately who have told me about the ways they have discovered that Satan is on the attack in their lives. If the reality of Satan is a new concept for you, let me simply say this about him… He is real and he is opposed to God’s people and God’s kingdom; he is like a 350 pound lineman. His goal is to knock us down. Whether it’s discouragement of some sort, mistakes that you’ve made in the past, or relational pressure you feel; realize that when you get serious about following Jesus, the enemy of our souls will most likely try to attack!
But PLEASE HEAR THIS: You don’t need to be afraid. Just be aware, and stay focused on getting back up and pressing forward. We are already victorious through Jesus Christ! However in that awareness, it’s also important to realize some of the temptations that we might face in times of “attack” that could hinder our ability to live victoriously in God.
Here are a few pitfalls to beware of:
1. The temptation to give up. That’s the most obvious, but it’s amazing how we can rationalize and make excuses when we feel the heat. Don’t give up! (Gal. 6:9)
2. The temptation to do it all myself. I’ve watched many Christians try to fix things or people on their own, and it only makes it worse. Trust God and others to help you. (Phil. 4:13)
3. The temptation to do it all immediately. Another danger is trying to do it all – NOW! Victory comes when we trust God’s process. (Phil. 1:6)
4. The temptation to focus on my opposition. It’s important to be aware of our enemy, but it’s more important to focus on our goal: Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
I know getting knocked down is no fun, but winning is! As you continue to passionately follow Jesus, and allow him to speak through his word – we will be victorious together! Maybe we can do a touchdown dance together sometime in the end zone of heaven!
Last night before I finally dozed to sleep at some ungodly hour, after watching a couple hours of election results, I heard the comments of a talk show host that startled me! He wondered how “America could be so hateful” in electing such a president. He went on to share some further words of disgust and then asked two poignant questions that kept me from sleeping for another hour:
• How did this happen?
• What do we do now?
Honestly, I think that they are questions that would be getting asked regardless of the election outcome. I am not a political expert by any means, but I am in the people business and I do care about seeing humanity made whole. Our only hope to see some kind of positive progress towards peace in our nation and our world is found through our ability to honestly look at these questions, after we are jarred by disappointing or even startling results.
When I did some introspection this morning regarding the question of “How did this happen”? There were five words that came to my mind: “You reap what you sow”. They are words that define not only a farming principle, but a spiritual principle from the Bible (2 Corinthians 9:6).
As I reflected on the harsh words of the political commentator describing people who voted for the winning candidate as “hate mongers” and “deplorable” I realized… he has reaped what he has sown.
Even more, we as a nation have reaped what we have sown. While most of us have been disgusted with the divisive and crass nature of the campaign trail, it’s vital that we realize that over the years we have sown that into our culture. These candidates, and now this president, are not the problem; they are the symptom of a deep problem in our society.
When we see a problem or concern in our world, if we are committed to being part of the solution, we must first ask “how did this happen” and then be willing to see where we our selves have sown into the problem.
Then we must ask our selves, “What do we do now”? “What kind of seeds will I sow to bring a new reality?”
No matter who you cast your ballot for, if you are disgusted with the culture of dishonor and fake tolerance in our nation, then you should probably begin looking at how you can sow seeds that will have the potential to produce peace in the future.
Here are the three seeds I realized I need to sow in this upcoming year:
1. Seeds of prayer.
Pray blessing for others, especially those in leadership. Not merely those you like and agree with, but even more importantly those who are different.
2. Seeds of time.
Take time to listen to those who think differently than you. It could be a person from a different generation, different social or ethnic or religious background. Spend time getting to know them. Ask questions and don’t rush to judgment. When we spend time truly getting to know people, we tend to humanize them rather than demonize them, and it creates an environment for love and compassion to grow.
3. Seeds of praise.
Look for opportunities to praise those who are different than you. If you can train your eyes to see what is good in others, and have the maturity to give them credit, you will reap a harvest of trust and deep relationship with those people.
So I have to wonder… What if the elected officials of our nation started to actually think and operate this way? What if every Christian in America started intentionally living this way? I believe it would transform our culture! It would transform the lives of this younger generation, and would allow us truly to be a nation that God can bless.
Let’s be people who sow seeds of prayer, time, and praise and see what kind of harvest we reap in the years to come!
Someone recently said to me, “Transition is like a slap in the face. It happens and then you’ve got to decide what you’re gonna do about it!”
I can definitely identify with that statement, as my family and I are in the midst of a transition that at the beginning of this year we did not see coming. As we have walked out this journey now for a couple of months, I wanted to share our story for two reasons:
Back in January we were approached by a supervisor of Foursquare churches, and he asked us to consider looking at a church that is in need of new lead pastor near Washington D.C., called Frederick, Maryland. We responded by declining his offer, telling him that we are very happy with things here at New Hope and that we were staying here.
He called back about a month later saying that we continued be strongly impressed upon His heart, and he asked us to consider at least going to see the church and city, and to meet with him. So we did, and after taking some time to pray after our visit, we discovered that God was calling us to take on this new assignment.
Obviously, we tried to resist initially, but God was up to something. And it was more than merely a “church change”. God wanted to do something deeper in our hearts. During this process He alerted our attention to a couple of things through our daily devotions. One day I was doing my LIFE journaling and read where it says:
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” Matthew 8:18
Then in verses 19-22, a guy approached Jesus saying I will follow you, and Jesus says this weird thing about “foxes having holes” and “birds having nests”, but that he didn’t have his own bed. Then a second guy tells Jesus that he will follow after he first buried his dead father, and Jesus tells him to “let the dead bury themselves”.
When I read that I realized that Jesus was calling his people to find their security and identity in him. Often we can try to find our security in natural earthly things like having nests. Or we can try to find our sense of identity in doing what think is the responsible thing (like burying the dead), rather than obeying and following Jesus above all else.
The next day I was reading in Matthew 9 where it says: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36-38
Here is my takeaway:
Jesus wants us to follow him. Sometimes that will involve a physical move, like he had the disciples get in boat with him to go across a lake to minister in different areas. But sometimes following him means staying right where you are. But whether you stay or go, His goal is that we would always follow Him into a compassionate response toward the harvest.
Transitions stink. Yes, like a “slap in the face”. However, the reason they are difficult is not because of the “change” involved, but the “emotions”. Transition always involves loss. Whether it’s a person, a program, style of music, or a location change… A new season means that an old season is going away. It’s often a season that we enjoyed and found to be comfortable and familiar.
My encouragement to you is this –as you face transition, follow Jesus. Seek to discover what He is doing in your life. It does not always involve a move to Maryland, but it will always involve an engagement of your heart to connect to God’s heart. As you make decisions, don’t allow yourself to be led by emotions. Instead, be moved by compassion like Jesus. Instead of hanging on to comfort, consider the harvest. Ask God to guide you in a way that will help you reach people that he is trying to reach.
I have found this has been huge for us in this journey, because my perspective tends to be selfish – in the past I have often made decisions according to what I think is best for me. In fact in transitional seasons, we tend to mostly focus on ourselves. But when you allow yourself to be guided by a harvest perspective, you may not end up aligning with human logic, but you will always find yourself aligned with the heart of God.
I pray that whatever transitional season you may be in, whether it’s relational, educational, business, personal, or church related like we are at New Hope – that you will be able to trust God on that journey, and let your life be guided by His love in way that will not only transform you, but that will also transform lives around you!
Last week, we had a news show on one morning at our house, and they were discussing the current election cycle. One my kids asked, “So now that President Obama is done will the next president start in a couple weeks?” My children were astounded as I explained to them that our current president has another 10 months remaining in his term, and we can expect about the same amount of these “campaign” proceedings. They were not excited to hear that we can expect these commercials and this news coverage for that long!
As I modestly observe the comments on Facebook, and listen to them in conversations I hear around town, there are so many strong and unique emotions that people seem to have regarding the people and issues involved in this cycle. There is a great deal of concern and even cynicism that even my Christian friends seems to carry as we pray and consider what is happening in front of us.
Which brings us to today. One that is known traditionally as Super Tuesday, and while there is a history behind that name, it certainly does not describe the sentiments of many people regarding the potential impact of today. So how should we as Christians view this day and this process?
I was reading in 1 Peter 1 this morning and the following verses stuck out to me…
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 1 Peter 1:3-6
While we may not see many “super” things in this Tuesday through our earthly eyes, it’s important that we keep our heavenly eyes on a couple of these “super” truths contained in these words of Peter the apostle:
While you and I may have our moments of discouragement and even frustration, these words of truth turn even a “Horrible Tuesday” into a “Super Tuesday”. Let’s allow the truth of God’s word penetrate and transform our hearts today. I pray that during this election season, that our church would pray and love with great power and expectation because of our living hope in Jesus Christ. I am praying that you would have great joy as you consider the reality of God’s kingdom at work in your life today.
In my last post, I started looking at the power and importance of being a church of love though the chapters of Romans 14 & 15. The more I study the letters of Paul and the book of Acts I constantly feel challenged personally and as a pastor to pursue a lifestyle that welcomes the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. It’s always tempting to settle for an “acceptable way” of living and loving that may pass the standards of this world, but falls short of what God has called is into as His people.
Christ followers and churches who are committed to living out this “Better Way”, as a church of love have six primary commitments that we see mentioned by Paul in these chapters. The first three are: the commitment to building each other up, the ability to recognize the value in each person, and the diligent focus of keeping the main thing the main thing.
Here are three more ways that we can make sure that we are becoming a church of love that models this “better way”:
“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It’s better not to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Romans 14:20
When my liberty or yours limits the work of God in the life of another person, we have a problem on our hands. We have to be sensitive to how our liberty could potentially cause a “weaker brother”, as it’s said in the Bible, to stumble.
There have been a number of ministry situations that I have adjusted the way I dress, sometimes more dressy sometimes less, in order to minister to a group of people both on the mission field and locally. It’s not insecurity that drives that decision, it is love; Paul’s point in Romans is, if I need to limit the way that I dress, fine, I’ll limit the way I dress. I’m not limiting myself out of legalism. I’m limiting myself because I want to minister to people who may not be mature enough to accept a different form of dress. Other people’s souls are far more important than my liberty.
At New Hope, as your pastor, I am committed to making sure that when it comes to “disputable” issues that we don’t make them a test of fellowship. It’s not my goal to make everyone think and act exactly like I do or else!!
Romans 14:22 – “So whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
Regarding the disputable matters Paul advises us to keep them between us and the Lord. The instruction is basically, “Enjoy your freedom, but don’t flaunt it.” You can practice your freedom without parading it for all to see.
You might wonder how to balance the tension. Well, Paul offers some great wisdom (Rom. 12:18), suggesting that while you need to look out for people who might be offended by a valid “stumbling block” issue, there are some legalists who will be upset no matter what you do. You’ll never be able to please them. In that event, he says, “As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all men.”
In other words, God even admits there are some people you can’t get along with! In that case, it’s not so much your problem as it is theirs. Their nitpicking says more about them than you.
In those cases go to God, and ask him to guide you by his Spirit to see what is of him, and what is not. Don’t always assume it’s their problem alone, because he could very well be calling you to adjust as well.
In Romans 15:7, Paul says, “Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God.”
How did Christ accept us? Unconditionally. Non-judgmentally. No one’s acceptance is based on performance! Paul then goes on in verse 13, to say there are four outcomes that we can expect by living out this “better way”: joy, peace, hope and power.
I want these to be the trademarks of my life, my family, and my church. It’s not possible this side of heaven to be perfect people or a perfect church, but it is possible to be healthy.
As we choose to walk in these 6 behaviors of the Better Way, we will become more and more healthy. I love hearing the stories of how God is using the people of our church family to make himself known to others through love and faith. As we walk in these ways I am confident we will see many people come to salvation and wholeness in Jesus Christ.
Can you feel it? Election season is starting to heat up! Daily headlines give us glimpses of the race for the highest office in the land; it often includes bitter smear campaigns, accusations, and self-promotion. It’s become so vile that the American public is starting to revolt against the political establishment. You can almost hear them crying out for a something better!
Even beyond the realm of politics I weekly hear stories of relational breakdowns amongst families and friends here in our own community. I encounter children and teenagers longing for adults in their lives who will give them life. As I reflect on these realities in our world I am reminded me of what this world needs the most: A Church of Love. In 1 Cor. 12:31 Paul calls it a “more excellent way”.
A Better way…
While I know that within our church family at New Hope we have many loving people, I also know that if we don’t actively apply certain principles on a regular basis, our good intentions to love can easily get lost amongst the pressures of this life. The Bible tells us that what sets us apart is the way we love. We can’t assume that we are excelling at love. It’s something we must work towards. In fact there is a great guide to becoming a church of love found in Romans 14 and 15.
Here are some secrets to becoming and remaining a Church of Love:
1. Commit to building each other up.
In Romans14:19 Paul instructs us to make this “building up” of others our goal. He wants us to become like Barnabas who was an encourager. Encouragement was even the definition of his name. What if we each made it our goal to encourage two people a week? One person we know well and one person that we don’t know well. What would that do to the morale of our church? In a world of discouragement we need encouragers! When we encourage, we partner with the Holy Spirit whom Jesus describes as the “comforter”.
2. Recognize the value in each person.
“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” (Rom.14:15) There may be certain people that you don’t understand – they may annoy you – but remember that Jesus died for them. When you start to get upset with someone in your family, your job, or in the church, just remember: Christ died for that person. They are valuable and important to God.
3. Keep the main thing the main thing.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 14:16)
Paul is reminding the church, that the priority of Christianity is not external issues but internal issues. By focusing on the things that are internal – the issues of the heart and soul – we can then have the ability to deal with the external differences that arise from time to time with others. Don’t be sidetracked by minor issues.
Let’s pursue the better way. Let’s move beyond good intentions and actively love in greater ways, that many more would be drawn to God and his love!
When I was in middle school, I was at an awards banquet for our school after our basketball season. During this banquet they were giving out awards for different areas of involvement in the school. During the musical awards for band, my name was called. I began awkwardly walking up front wondering the whole time why I was receiving an award. I wondered if they were thanking me for not making the band worse by joining, because I wasn’t in the band! When I arrived on the platform they realized the mistake, and the worst part…I didn’t get to keep the plaque!!!
One of the mysteries of God is how he gives honor to people who don’t seem to deserve it. Think about this scene with Jesus:
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
Keep in mind that Jesus had not yet performed one miracle! He hadn’t even faced the temptation from Satan in the wilderness. He hadn’t gathered any disciples. All he did was go into the waters of baptism!
It would seem a bit premature for God to say the words, “with him I am well pleased”. Or at least it would seem that way according to our human reasoning. But God’s ways of love and honor are beyond our human standards!
Once we have taken a step of faith towards him (which is why baptism is so important), we are receiving our God given identity as holy and blameless children of God like Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:4-5, “4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”.
It’s vital for us to understand that in the same way that Father God validated Jesus, before he fulfilled all of his “potential”, he also validates us before we have “done it all”. As you and I embrace this “undeserved honor”, believing God’s love for us here is what happens:
You might find yourself struggling with a sense of unworthiness today. You may wonder whether you really matter or whether God is pleased with you.
Today I pray you will receive his love for you, and that your heart would find rest! If you have been trying to be someone that you are not, hear His voice today: he is pleased with you as His child! You are who He says that you are!
For others, today you might be working hard to change someone else. Learn from God’s way of honor… the only way you will see a person’s potential released is by loving them unconditionally today!
Let’s receive His undeserved honor today! It is the gateway to God’s best for our lives!
A father of five young children won a toy at a raffle. Back home, he called his kids together to let them determine which one should have the present. “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. “Who never talks back to Mother? Who does everything she says?” Five small voices answered in unison: “You, Daddy!”
Even dads (and moms) have to obey! Obedience is also vital to Building Community. If we are going to build stronger community relationships with one another so that we can transform our community, it means that obedience and submission will be involved. But there’s one problem that maybe you can relate with… obedience and submission are two words that do not excite me! There are times in the past when I have considered the word ‘submission’ in particular, equal to a cuss word! I don’t want to hear it!
Yet I realize that to experience God’s purposes in my life, both are required. These elements are essential in our relationship with God and His word, and with those we relate with in our lives as well; especially with our family and Christian friends!
Listen to these verses:
“To obey is better than sacrifice,” 1 Samuel 15:22
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
We understand obedience, but sometimes we find ways around it. Most of us do not intentionally disobey, but instead we find substitutes for obedience. We excuse ourselves on the basis of our good intentions. But I have found that when you are living a life of submission, obedience follows.
Living a life of submission is synonymous with living the life of a servant. When we choose to serve others, we are submitting ourselves to them. When mutual submission begins happening in the context of godly relationships out of reverence for Christ, good things follow, because love flows freely where we are active in serving.
Allow me to share with you a few implications of submission:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” Philippians 2:3 Submission helps me acknowledge the God-given value of others He has placed in my life.
2. You defeat selfishness.
“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Phil. 2:4 My selfish motives get weeded out from the depths of my heart, as I consider others and their concerns or needs by submitting my life to serve them.
3. You develop a winning attitude.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” Phil. 2:5 When I submit my life to other godly people that God has placed in my life, a Christ-like attitude emerges!
4. You become more secure.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Phil. 2:6-7 In submitting I am set free from the need to “prove” something. I live from a place of security in God’s love. That’s an “s” word that I can fully embrace!
My hope and prayer in these days is that every person that God brings through the doors of New Hope, will be awakened to the reality that He loves them, and wants to use them to accomplish great things by His power in this world. When we “submit to one another in love” (Eph. 5:21), living out of obedience to God, a new level of joy will be released!
o The power of sin is dead in their life. Romans 6:11
o They are raised to new life. Colossians 2:12
Being immersed in the water represents death to sin, and emerging from the water represents the cleansed, holy life that follows salvation. Romans 6:4 puts it this way: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
We are called not only to believe, but to belong. There is much talk in the modern American church about having a “personal relationship with Jesus”. And at New Hope, we make that a priority as well… and that is a good thing!
We want to make disciples who move beyond having a mere head knowledge about God, and enter into a place of personal experience. For instance, when we read the Bible and the Holy Spirit inspires words of scripture to convict of sin, heal pain in our hearts, and give direction it our lives, it impacts your life forever!
However… (You had to know that was coming!) The problem with so much emphasis on our personal relationship with Jesus is that it can distract us from the other dimension of relationship with God: Having relationship with His people in the context of the local church.
God called you into relationship with him, not only so you could pray the “sinners prayer of salvation”, but also so that you could enter into community with other Christ followers. We were made for relationship and we are truly better together!
At New Hope, Building Community in Unity is our primary focus right now. As we continue to teach and learn about that, I want us to keep in mind some of the benefits and blessings of building deeper relationship. Here are a few of the ways we are better together:
As we work to Build Community in unity – great things happen! I am so thankful to have a church family that is hungry to invest in building relationships – both with our friends and those that God is adding to our community. We have seen God do some pretty amazing things, and I am confident that the best is yet to come.